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Kibera slum residents brace for Kenya's elections

Man works down the street in the Makina area of Kibera slum, 4 August 2017.
Man works down the street in the Makina area of Kibera slum, 4 August 2017. Photo: RFI/Daniel Finnan

Residents of Kibera slum in Nairobi are on edge ahead of Kenya’s elections, worried about a possible repeat of post-election violence over disputed results almost 10 years ago. At least 1,200 people were killed in 2007-2008 when opposition candidate Raila Odinga rejected the results, accusing Mwai Kibaki of electoral fraud. In Kibera, often described as one of Africa’s largest urban slums, clashes erupted almost immediately in 2007 after the announcement of results.


“The feeling’s so tense, people are feeling a bit afraid, they’re not very sure about the situation, how it’s going to be,” Anwar, a Kibera resident, told RFI. “They think that some kind of skirmishes can arise, it may happen, it may not happen, because it depends on the results of the elections, how they’ll come about,” said the businessman.

Radio report

Reports from December 2007 described thousands of angry Odinga supporters setting fire to buildings in Kibera with youth blocking the main roads. Violence broke out in other areas of the capital as well as in the city of Kisumu and a number of locations in Kenya’s Rift Valley.

The bloodshed was not just restricted to attacks perpetrated by mobs armed with clubs and machetes. Police used excessive force in handling demonstrations in Kibera, leading to the deaths of many people including children, according to a report by a UN human rights fact-finding mission.

Kibera, which is infamous for its poverty, overcrowding and lack of sanitation, has changed a lot since the deadly violence. Efforts were made to improve the area, including surfacing dirt roads with tarmac and installing street lighting.

The slum is vibrant and bustling with yellow tuk-tuks ferrying passengers up and down, people frying maandazi, a type of donut, on the roadside, and music blaring out from radios in the small shops. However, despite the appearance of normality, people fear that life in Kibera could once again descend into chaos.

“We’re hoping and praying that whoever wins should respect the law and people should restrain from fighting each other,” Issa, who saw the killings in 2007-2008, told RFI. “It was a tribal war, people fighting from this tribe fighting this other tribe - people died,” said the unemployed 26-year-old.

“I’m not only worried, I’m scared too,” said Zena, a mother, who works as a trader. “We don’t want violence and we fear it - we have small children who go to school,” she said.

Some inhabitants of Kibera have left the slum to avoid a possible repeat of the events of 2007-2008 with people RFI spoke to describing shops closing and panic buying. Although not everyone agrees that the likelihood of carnage is the same as before.

“People now are a little bit more mature, even the new constitution has given us a lot of confidence in expressing our views through voting,” said Ali Mohammed Abbas, who is the organising secretary in the Makina ward of Kibera for the Orange Democratic Movement party of Odinga.

“When people are open, expressing their views, then violence doesn’t happen,” said life-long Kibera resident Abbas.

But changes in Kenya over the last 10 years have not persuaded those who fear the worst. Unemployed Issa is worried that the large numbers of unemployed young people could be manipulated, leading to a repeat of those dark days.

“We are so many, people who have no jobs – it’s really hard – that’s the reason why violence keeps on happening, they take advantage of the unemployment,” said the 26-year-old.

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